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More than 20 Activision Blizzard employees ‘exited’ following lawsuits

‘We must earn our team’s confidence that, when they speak up, they will be heard’

Activision Blizzard employees stage a walkout in the response from company leadership to a lawsuit highlighting alleged harassment, inequality Image: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Call of Duty and Overwatch publisher Activision Blizzard is vowing to create a “company culture where all feel safe and heard,” according to a letter published by Activision Blizzard corporate affairs executive vice president Fran Townsend. The letter was reportedly circulated internally before being published online.

Townsend said more than 20 people have “exited” Activision Blizzard following internal investigations following California’s sweeping Department of Fair Housing and Employment (DFEH) lawsuit against the video game company. Current and former employees alleged that the World of Warcraft publisher maintains a toxic workplace culture that’s hostile to women, who are paid less than men and subject to sexual harassment. Townsend said “more than 20 individuals” have been disciplined “in connection to various resolved reports” in the recent months.

Activision Blizzard has not responded to Polygon’s request for more information regarding these exits and disciplinary action.

In the months since the original lawsuit, Activision Blizzard has been sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), its shareholders, and the National Labor Relations Board. The company is also being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for alleged violations related to workplace discrimination and sexual harassment. Activision Blizzard settled with the EEOC in September for $18 million; the DFEH tried to intervene in that settlement, and now those two agencies are fighting. Ahead of Tuesday’s letter from Townsend, Activision Blizzard filed documents in the DFEH case asking a judge to halt the lawsuit — essentially, Activision Blizzard is trying to get the case thrown out due to a conflict of interest between government lawyers, according to The Verge.

Despite that filing, Townsend said in Tuesday’s letter that Activision Blizzard is “working tirelessly to ensure that, moving forward, this is a place where people are not only heard, but empowered.”

To do so, Activision Blizzard said it has ongoing investigations, and that reports can continue to be made anonymously. The company will add 19 employees to its Ethics and Compliance team, led by senior vice president Jen Brewer. Townsend also said Activision Blizzard will “triple” its investment in training against harassment and other workplace concerns.

Some current and former employees, on social media and in conversation with Polygon, said they’re not convinced by Townsend’s letter. This is due, in part, to Townsend’s initial response to the DFEH lawsuit; the Activision Blizzard exec and former homeland security advisor under George W. Bush said the lawsuit was “distorted and untrue,” as well as “truly meritless and irresponsible.” At that time, a group of Activision Blizzard employees banded together to call for her removal as the sponsor of the ABK (Activision Blizzard King) Employee Women’s Network.

Hundreds of Activision Blizzard employees walked out of work following Townsend’s initial letter. Thousands of current and former employees signed an open letter in support of the DFEH lawsuit. Multiple executives and high profile employees exited the company in the following months, including Blizzard president J. Allen Brack.

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